Martyrdom of Paul and Peter
THE apostles Paul and Peter were for many
years widely separated in their labors, it being the work of Paul to carry the gospel to
the Gentiles, while Peter labored especially for the Jews. But in the providence of God,
both were to bear witness for Christ in the world's metropolis, and upon its soil both
were to shed their blood as the seed of a vast harvest of saints and martyrs.
About the time of Paul's
second arrest Peter also was apprehended and thrust into prison. He had made himself
especially obnoxious to the authorities by his zeal and success in exposing the deceptions
and defeating the plots of Simon Magus, the sorcerer, who had followed him to Rome to
oppose and hinder the work of the gospel. Nero was a believer in magic, and had patronized
Simon. He was therefore greatly incensed against the apostle, and was thus prompted to
order his arrest.
The emperor's malice against
Paul was heightened by the fact that members of the imperial household, and also other
persons of distinction, had been converted to Christianity during his first imprisonment.
For this reason he made the second imprisonment much more severe than the first, granting
him little opportunity to preach the gospel; and he determined to cut short his life as
soon as a plausible pretext could
be found for so doing. Nero's mind was so impressed with
the force of the apostle's words at his last trial that he deferred the decision of the
case, neither acquitting nor condemning him. But the sentence was only deferred. It was
not long before the decision was pronounced which consigned Paul to a martyr's grave.
Being a Roman citizen, he could not be subjected to torture, and was therefore sentenced
to be beheaded.
Peter, as a Jew and a
foreigner, was condemned to be scourged and crucified. In prospect of this fearful death,
the apostle remembered his great sin in denying Jesus in the hour of trial, and his only
thought was that he was unworthy of so great an honor as to die in the same manner as did
his Master. Peter had sincerely repented of that sin, and had been forgiven by Christ, as
is shown by the high commission given him to feed the sheep and lambs of the flock. But he
could never forgive himself. Not even the thought of the agonies of the last terrible
scene could lessen the bitterness of his sorrow and repentance. As a last favor he
entreated his executioners that he might be nailed to the cross with his head downward.
The request was granted, and in this manner died the great apostle Peter.
Paul was led in a private
manner to the place of execution. His persecutors, alarmed at the extent of his influence,
feared that converts might be won to Christianity even by the scene of his death. Hence
few spectators were allowed to be present. But the hardened soldiers appointed to attend
him listened to his words, and with amazement saw him cheerful and even joyous in prospect
of such a death. His spirit of forgiveness toward his murderers and unwavering confidence
in Christ to the very last proved a savor of life unto
life to some who witnessed his
martyrdom. More than one erelong accepted the Saviour whom Paul preached, and fearlessly
sealed their faith with their blood.
The life of Paul, to its very
latest hour, testified to the truth of his words in the second epistle to the Corinthians:
"For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our
hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus
Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may
be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are
perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;
always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus
might be made manifest in our body." 2 Cor. 4:6-10. His sufficiency was not in
himself but in the presence and agency of the divine Spirit that filled his soul and
brought every thought into subjection to the will of Christ. The fact that his own life
exemplified the truth he proclaimed gave convincing power to both his preaching and his
deportment. Says the prophet, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is
stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee." Isa. 26:3. It was this heaven-born
peace, expressed upon the countenance, that won many a soul to the gospel.
The apostle was looking into
the great beyond, not with uncertainty or in dread, but with joyful hope and longing
expectation. As he stood at the place of martyrdom he saw not the gleaming sword of the
executioner or the green earth so soon to receive his blood; he looked up through the calm
blue heaven of that summer's day to the throne of the Eternal. His language was, O Lord,
Thou art my comfort and my portion. When shall I embrace Thee? When shall
I behold Thee
for myself, without a dimming veil between?
Paul carried with him through
his life on earth the very atmosphere of heaven. All who associated with him felt the
influence of his connection with Christ and companionship with angels. Here lies the power
of the truth. The unstudied, unconscious influence of a holy life is the most convincing
sermon that can be given in favor of Christianity. Argument, even when unanswerable, may
provoke only opposition; but a godly example has a power which it is impossible to wholly
While the apostle lost sight
of his own near sufferings, he felt a deep solicitude for the disciples whom he was about
to leave to cope with prejudice, hatred, and persecution. He endeavored to strengthen and
encourage the few Christians who accompanied him to the place of execution, by repeating
the exceeding precious promises given for those who are persecuted for righteousness'
sake. He assured them that nothing shall fail of all that the Lord hath spoken concerning
His tried and faithful ones. They shall arise and shine; for the light of the Lord shall
arise upon them. They shall put on their beautiful garments when the glory of the Lord
shall be revealed. For a little season they may be in heaviness through manifold
temptations, they may be destitute of earthly comfort; but they must encourage their
hearts by saying, I know in whom I have believed. He is able to keep that which I have
committed to His trust. His rebuke will come to an end, and the glad morning of peace and
perfect day will come.
The Captain of our salvation
has prepared His servant for the last great conflict. Ransomed by the sacrifice of Christ,
washed from sin in His blood, and
clothed in His righteousness, Paul has the witness in
himself that his soul is precious in the sight of his Redeemer. His life is hid with
Christ in God, and he is persuaded that He who has conquered death is able to keep that
which is committed to his trust. His mind grasps the Saviour's promise, "I will raise
him up at the last day." John 6:40. His thoughts and hopes are centered in the second
advent of his Lord. And as the sword of the executioner descends and the shadows of death
gather about the martyr's soul, his latest thought springs forward, as will his earliest
thought in the great awakening, to meet the Lifegiver who shall welcome him to the joy of
Well-nigh a score of
centuries have passed since Paul the aged poured out his blood as a witness for the Word
of God and for the testimony of Christ. No faithful hand recorded for the generations to
come the last scenes in the life of this holy man; but inspiration has preserved for us
his dying testimony. Like a trumpet peal has his voice rung out through all the ages,
nerving with his own courage thousands of witnesses for Christ, and wakening in thousands
of sorrow-stricken hearts the echo of his own triumphant joy: "I am now ready to be
offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have
finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of
righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to
me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing." 2 Tim. 4:6-8.
Copyright © 1974
The Ellen G. White Estate, Inc.
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